Guest Contributor Jonathan Stevenson / Summer group shows are notorious for their looseness, but in “Character Traits” Matthew Craven has managed to curate one at Asya Geisberg Gallery in Chelsea that’s coherent as well as insightful and amusing. Leading off the show with an obscene jolt is Dawn Frasch’s large surreal canvas Pussy Phanatic(pictured above), in which a spew of toxic images, including belimbed skulls and gelatinous pistols, emerges from a petulant slattern’s crotch. If the Pandora’s Box imagery is a little on the nose in making Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin look like Shakers, it is knowingly so, and all in good fun.
In line with the louche female motif, Sojourner Truth Parsons’ snazzy collage-and-ink work Looking at the Pool – depicting two stilettoed and florally stockinged legs, one heel crushing a smoldering cigarette butt – trenchantly conjures a woman who wants to be somewhere else disdainfully surveying outdoor leisure.
Conversely, drawings like Austin English’s sardonic The Gang’s All Here and D’Metrius Rice’s jangled Self Reflectors intimate the latent hostility of the crowd. In turn, Nel Aerts’s wry totemic fragments in his collage The Master, The Clown, The Smoker, and the Tree impart levels of tenuous social engagement ranging from judgmental to inert.
More calmly and philosophically, Austin Eddy’s pointedly subdued retro abstractions imply that discord between people and circumstance is inevitable if manageable, while Ryan Michael Ford’s playfully weird interjection of the heads of pet lapdogs into foreign contexts imparts how people deploy particular aspects of their lives to domesticate uncomfortable or alien situations.
Moving from social to internal disharmony, and back to sex, Raina Hamner’s candid little faux-naïve oil painting So Much Tenderness Is In My Head, So Much Loneliness In My Bed laments unquenched feelings of romance and lust. In tacit syncopation, Brian Scott Campbell’s raucous sad-face caricature There There seems like a facetious riposte, his two more affectionate paintings summoning athletes in motion suggesting a blithe remedy for existential complaints.
The conceit of Craven’s exhibition is that when clustered interactively – in a painting or in a group show – clichés can acquire fresher and larger meaning. You can imagine these nine artists at a salon, by turns cheeky and mordant, bantering in happy agitation. In bringing them together, “Character Traits” conveys not merely a set of oblique angles on life but an insouciant worldview.
“Character Traits,” curated by Matthew Craven, Asya Geisberg, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through Ausust 14, 2015. Artists include Nel Aerts, Brian Scott Campbell, Austin Eddy, Austin English, Ryan Michael Ford, Dawn Frasch, Raina Hamner, Sojourner Truth Parsons, and D’Metrius Rice.
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